New research suggests that in one in three marriages, one or both partners admit to cheating. As much as no one wants to believe it will happen in their relationship, we know that cheating affects so many people. But can you recover from the pain and rebuild trust after adultery?
We asked our very own relationship expert, Cynthia Loyst, to break down what to do when your partner cheats.
Why do cheaters cheat?
The reasons are as varied as individuals themselves are. But the one thing that is surprising is that people in happy relationships cheat. In other words, it’s not always the stereotype of the man who thinks his wife isn’t sexy anymore. Contrary to popular belief, it often happens among people who are very much in love with their partners.
A new study in The Journal of Sex Research several reasons as to why individuals chose to pair off with someone else outside their relationship. Of those surveyed, 57 per cent shared that they cheated to boost their own self-esteem, whilst 70 per cent shared that it was down to neglect from their current partner or due to situational reasons, such as intoxication. Another reason included them simply wanting more variety in sexual partners. The top reason for why those who took part in the survey cheated: 77 per cent of participants felt a lack of love.
The difference between men and women adulterers
For many men, they often describe feeling marginalized; especially when kids come along and they feel they have to compete for intimacy with the kids. So loneliness or lack of erotic attention seems to be the motivating factor. For women, the sense of alienation is often in relation to themselves; in becoming caregiver they become disconnected from their erotic self. What these narratives have in common, however, is a sense of loss; loss of oneself, loss of one’s partner and loss of freedom, whether that is real or imagined.
Not all affairs are equal
Affairs always involve a breach of trust and it’s an act of betrayal. It involves lies, secrecy. But there are all kinds of things happening in the relationship, and betrayal sometimes comes in many forms. For example: a woman who was constantly put down or ignored by her partner. If she goes and cheats, is she the one who betrayed the relationship first, or did he? Or what about the man who has a partner who no longer wants sex with him? The experience of infidelity is so ubiquitous, and so poorly understood that it can’t be reduced to good and bad, victim and perpetrator.
When to call it quits
It’s really up to the individual, but if the cheater is showing no remorse, or this is a serial offender, or if you just really feel like you will never be able to move past it, it’s probably time to move on.
Staying together after an affair
Couples that choose to stay together after an affair fall into three categories: sufferers, builders, and explorers.
For sufferers, the affair remains a black hole permanently fixed at the center of the relationship. What follows can be a lifetime of emotional pain.
Builders, relieved to have put it in the past, simply soldier on. The affair is sealed over, and nobody goes there again.
The third category, the explorers I find the most interesting. Instead of playing detective and asking all of the obsessive questions (i.e. who? What? Where? and how many times?) the explorer becomes the investigator. The investigative questions are to help you understand the meaning – why did this happen? What is it that you were looking for? What did you find that you couldn’t experience with me anymore? Did you think about me and the kids? Did you hope that I would find out? Did you want me to leave you?
To be an explorer is not easy. But it’s the explorers who emerge from the trauma most fully alive.
First of all, know that there’s no set time for healing. It takes as long as it takes. Now if you’re the person who did the cheating, you need to express serious guilt and remorse, and acknowledge what you did to hurt your partner. If your partner feels the need to keep re-visiting the issue, don’t get frustrated and snap at them that you already apologized; it’s your job to continue comforting your partner while they work through their emotions. As for the person who has been cheated on but wants to stay they must at some point accept that they will never know the full truth. But what they need to understand is what this was about and why it happened and how to take this information and turn this crisis into an opportunity.
Advice for staying together
The ability of a couple to recover has little to do with the actual affair itself. For some, a one-night stand will be devastating while others will find there is a way to come back from an eight-year-long affair.
In some cases, infidelity signals the end of an already dying relationship, but in many others it serves as a powerful alarm: they can be wake ups, that jolt people out of a state of complacency. What couples choose to do with this moment of rupture, whether infidelity is transformative or destructive, is ultimately what only you can decide.
Cynthia Loyst is our resident relationship expert and a passionate advocate for healthy sexual information. As a sought-after relationship coach and columnist, she’s known for giving advice and opinions on the joys and complications of love. She has received awards from SSSS (Society For The Scientific Study of Sexuality) and Planned Parenthood in Toronto. She is also SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) certified, a member of SIECCAN (Sex Information and Education Council of Canada) and holds a Sex Education Certificate from The University of Michigan. Cynthia is also the founder of FindYourPleasure.com. For legal disclaimer, click here.